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CSS Virginia

From Academic Kids

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Ch14CSSVirginia.jpg
CSS Virginia

CareerMissing image
Csnjack.png
Image:Csnjack.png

Ordered:1861
Laid down:1862
Commissioned:1862
Fate:scuttled by crew
General Characteristics
Displacement:approx. 3200 tons (the data differ, 800 tons is unlikely)
Length:275 ft (84 m)
Beam:38.6 ft (11.8 m)
Draft:22 ft (6.7 m)
Speed:9 knots (17 km/h)
Complement:320 officers and men
Armament:two 7 in (178 mm) rifles
two 6 in (152 mm) rifles
six 9 in (229 mm) Dahlgren smoothbores
two 12-pounder (5 kg) howitzers
Armor:Iron

CSS Virginia was an ironclad warship of the Confederate States Navy during the American Civil War. She was one of the participants in the Battle of Hampton Roads in March, 1862 opposite the USS Monitor. The battle is chiefly significant in naval history as the first battle between two powered ironclad warships, which came to be known as ironclads.

Prior to then, nearly all warships were made primarily of wood. Afterwards, the design of ships and the nature of naval warfare changed dramatically.

Contents

USS Merrimack becomes CSS Virginia

When the Commonwealth of Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, one of the important federal military bases threatened was Gosport Shipyard (now Norfolk Naval Shipyard) in Portsmouth, Virginia. Accordingly, the order was sent to destroy the base rather than allow it to fall into Confederate hands. Unfortunately for the Union, these orders were bungled. The steam frigate USS Merrimack sank before it completely burned. When the Confederates entered the yard, they raised the Merrimack and decided to use the engines and hull to build an ironclad ram.

This new ship was named Virginia. It had an iron deck and casement, four inches (102 mm) thick. It mounted ten cannons, one in front and rear and four on each side. Further, the designers of the Virginia had heard of plans by the North to build an ironclad. Figuring that cannon would be unable to harm such a ship, and to conserve gunpowder, they equipped the Virginia with a ram—the first ship so-equipped in over a thousand years. The Merrimack's engines, now part of the Virginia, had not been in good working order, and had not been improved by being submerged in the James River. The addition of a number of tons of iron did not improve the situation.

Battle of Hampton Roads

Drawing depicting the battle of Hampton Roads
Enlarge
Drawing depicting the battle of Hampton Roads

The Battle of Hampton Roads began on March 8 1862 when Virginia set out for Hampton Roads. Despite an all-out effort to complete her, the ship still had workmen on board when she sailed. Supported by Raleigh and Beaufort, and accompanied by Patrick Henry, Jamestown, and Teaser, Virginia took on the blockading fleet.

The first ship engaged, USS Cumberland, was sunk after being rammed. However, in sinking, Cumberland broke off Virginia's ram. Seeing what happened to Cumberland, the captain of USS Congress ordered his ship grounded in shallow water. Congress and Virginia traded fire for an hour, after which the badly-damaged Congress surrendered. While the surviving crewmen of Congress were being ferried off the ship, a Union battery on the north shore opened fire on Virginia. In retaliation, the captain of Virginia ordered Congress fired upon with red-hot shot, to set her ablaze.

Virginia did not emerge from the battle unscathed. Shot from Cumberland, Congress, and Union troops had riddled her smokestack, reducing her already low speed. Two of her guns were out of order, and a number of armor plates had been loosened. Even so, her captain attacked USS Minnesota, which had run aground on a sandbank trying to escape Virginia. However, because of the deep draft of the ship, Virginia was unable to do significant damage. It being late in the day, Virginia left with the expectation of returning the next day and completing the destruction of the Union fleet.

Later that night, USS Monitor arrived. This Union ironclad had been rushed to Hampton Roads in hopes of protecting the Union fleet and preventing Virginia from threatening Union cities.

The next day, on 9 March 1862, the world's first battle between ironclad warships took place. The smaller and nimbler Monitor was able to outmaneuver Virginia, but neither ship proved able to do significant damage to the other. Finally, Virginia retreated up the James River, leaving Monitor and the rest of the Union fleet in possession of the "battlefield."


During the next two months, Virginia made several sorties to Hampton Roads hoping to draw Monitor into battle. Monitor, however, was under orders not to engage Virginia and refused to fight.

Finally on May 10, 1862, advancing Union troops threatened to capture Norfolk. Virginia was unable to retreat further up the James River due to her deep draft. So she was ordered burnt to keep her from being captured. Early on the morning of May 11, 1862, off Craney Island, the flames reached her magazine and the ship was destroyed by a great explosion.

Historical names: Merrimack, Virginia, Merrimac

The name of the warship which served the Confederacy in the famous Battle of Hampton Roads eventually became a continuing source of confusion, to the present day.

She was commissioned by the Confederacy as Virginia. However, even after she was rebuilt, the Union preferred to call the Confederate ironclad warship by her earlier name, Merrimack. Perhaps because the Union won the US Civil War, the history of the United States generally records the Union version. However, in an apparent quirk in history, at some later time, the name commonly used was shortened to drop the final "-k", hence "the Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac".

It is said that the most popular exhibit at Jamestown Exposition held in 1907 at Sewell's Point was the "Battle of the Merrimac and Monitor," a diorama which was in a special building.

The small community in Montgomery County, Virginia near the location where the iron for the Confederate ironclad was forged is now known as Merrimac, Virginia. Some of the iron mined there and used in the plating on the confederate ironclad is displayed at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia. Other pieces are on display at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News and the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, where the anchor has resided for many years.

The name of the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, built in Hampton Roads in the general vicinity of the famous engagment, with both Virginia and federal funds, also reflects the more recent version.

Should the periodic modern efforts to recover more of the Confederate vessel from the depths of Hampton Roads prove successful, it is unclear what name will be applied to the remains.

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